The rescue of an Indian Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris) chick.

The rescue of an Indian Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris) chick.
-Ajay Gadikar

While completing the documentary movie on the nesting and breeding behavior of Indian grey hornbill at the Bio-diversity Nursery situated at forest campus Indore, I came across one more event worth mentioning, it was the rescue of an Indian grey hornbill chick.

After a period of 20 days from the day the female left the cavity its two chicks also fledged and come out of the nest cavity successfully one by one within a short span of time, but destiny has stored some more events in the coming days to add to already beautiful moments captured of the hornbill family for me.

Two days after the chicks left the nest, I was informed by a forest guard posted at the nursery that he has found one of the hornbill chicks lying on the road at the nursery gate.  It was evening time, I hurried to the nursery and saw the battered hornbill baby lying on the road, he was in a real bad condition with mud sticking on his body and was quite wet, socked in water as it had rained a day before. I was in a fix as what is to be done next, his parents were also nearby making distress calls and encouraging the baby to take flight, but unfortunately the baby was not able to fly in his present condition. 

Hornbill baby on the road

After understanding the situation, I informed the CCF sir, who immediately called for a bird cage and suggested that since the baby is not able to fly it needs to be put in a cage to protect it from the dogs present in the forest nursery.

The forest guard brought one cage and the baby was put inside it. Some fruits and water was also kept inside it, although he was not drinking or eating anything.

In a cage to protect from predators

It consultation of the forest personals it was decided that let the baby remain inside the cage for the night and we will try to free him in the morning when his parents are around. The cage was kept in the nursery itself so that the baby feels the same environment around him. It was understood that this bird can only be rescued once he/she is able to fly. There was no history of a baby Indian grey hornbill successfully nurtured to its adulthood in a cage according to my knowledge.

Next morning we found the chick in a better condition, his feathers have dried up and he has also preened his feathers to remove the mud from them. We let the baby free, but he was not able to fly more than 2-3 meters.   His parents continuously encouraged him by making calls from above, but he was too weak for taking a flight. In making the attempts to reach to his parents up on the tree he fell down on ground again and again in the nursery.  After getting exhausted by trying repeatedly he sat on ground then we thought of putting him back in the cage and start to think of some other idea to rescue him.

Chick calling
I was quite sure that this baby can only be rescued if his parents encourage him and feed him, we people don’t know what to feed to the baby and in which form so the next day I suggested to try and put him back on the branch of the same tree on which the nest cavity was present.

A ladder was tied around the tree and one of the forest guards climbed up the tree and put the baby near the nest cavity. The baby sat comfortably on the branch and started calling his parents.

Chick on nest

Soon after that, what happened was not less then a miracle. The male hornbill bird came immediately from nearby and started feeding the chick, later the baby was fed by both the parents continuously for whole of the day.  We were very happy to see this, the baby hornbill remained on that branch for whole of the day, preening his feathers and hoping a little bit here and there.

Male hornbill feeding the chick

In the night we thought it is sitting at a vulnerable position on the tree and it cannot save himself if attacked by a cat or some predatory bird like owl, so we put him back in the cage for the night, the same process got repeated in the next morning, this time we put him on a water tank and the parents fed him continuously for the whole day, he himself kept preening his feathers and he looked quite refreshed with in two days time. 

On the 3rd day we take a risk of leaving it on the tree for whole of the night, and keep our fingers crossed. It was a crucial day for the survival of the chick, in the morning I straight away drove to Nursery and find him sitting on the same branch on which we left him on the previous evening. We all were very happy to see this, we were successful in saving the life of a baby hornbill.

After two days we saw him taking flight with his parents hopping from one tree to another with them. The parents were still continuously feeding him.

The CCF Sir Dr. P.C.Dube has encouraged me and we were very hopeful from day one that this baby will survive while others were a bit doubtful about it, but our hopes were too strong and the baby survived.

This was an example of a calculated human intervention to save the bird. At the same time the bird has been adopted by the parents and was free to take flight with them in the open skies.

(Text and Pictures by Ajay Gadikar  Ornithologist, Indore  )

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